Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner Talk Abortion, Babies on 'Girls'

The co-showrunners spoke to America Ferrera about directing at a Tuesday night Tribeca Film Festival panel.
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Jenni Konner, Lena Dunham and America Ferrera during Tuesday night's Tribeca Film Festival talk.

[Warning: The following story contains spoilers about the sixth and final season of Girls.]

HBO's Girls aired its last episode 10 days ago, but there are still some stories about the Lena Dunham-created series that haven't been told.

Dunham and co-showrunner Jenni Konner shared some of those during a Tribeca Film Festival talk with America Ferrera.

For instance, they revealed that the abortion storyline that took place in Girls' second episode originally was supposed to be in the pilot. At the beginning of the series, Jessa (Jemima Kirke) plans to get an abortion after she discovers she's pregnant.

"For me it was so obvious that none of these characters would ever keep a child and that all of them would be coming from a liberal-arts school and wouldn't have particularly strong emotions about it beside let's get this done and support each other," said Dunham. "[Executive producer] Judd [Apatow] was like, I think you're not quite properly estimating America's feelings on abortion."

Apatow and HBO felt viewers needed an episode to introduce them to the four main characters first.

Konner said Apatow arguing a pilot abortion would be like "if Kramer killed a puppy in the pilot" of Seinfeld and that HBO essentially said, "You might want to get to know the girls first before they're throwing an abortion party."

Dunham added, "There was even more talk of an abortion party. We peeled that back."

Konner pointed out, though, that it wasn't as if HBO was against the idea of one of the characters planning to get an abortion. "They let us do it in the second episode, so it wasn't like they fought us on it," she said. "They were just like, 'How about we have another one first?'"

By the end of the series, Hannah had a baby of her own, after winding up pregnant from a fling with surf instructor Paul-Louis. But even though Hannah's decision about how to deal with her pregnancy was different, Konner said she was happy that the show didn't engage too much in questions of whether or not someone should keep a baby.

"Both times we almost entirely avoid the question or the argument of whether to keep the baby," said Konner. "And that is so interesting to me. And I love that. … [At the beginning of the series], they were a certain age, they were a certain group of girls. There was no version where Jessa was going to have that baby. So we never had that conversation. … I liked having the debates not being will you keep it or will you not."

Dunham also found it interesting to hear how fans of the show reacted to Hannah deciding to have a baby.

"It was exciting, and it was a real litmus test," she said. "Because there were people to whom it seemed totally natural that Hannah would keep her child and others who were almost more scandalized that she didn't make the other choice."

While viewers saw Hannah raising her son in the final episode of the series, some were annoyed that the often-controversial character didn't address the fact that her son is biracial.

"Riz [Ahmed] and I talked about it a lot and decided that in the purpose of the story we just felt like Paul-Louis' ethnicity, his race wasn't important to the dynamic and interaction that he and Hannah were having," explained Dunham. "If they'd had more time together, she could have delved into his past and what it was like to be a Pakistani kid growing up in Detroit, but that wasn't what their weekend together was about."

As for their child, Dunham pointed out, "He's 3 months old. [Hannah] has terrible postpartum depression. I want to believe that she will be able to have those important conversations and protect him in the world, but now she's just trying to figure out how to breastfeed and get him to go to sleep. The conversations about what his life is going to look like and what his life will look like in this version of America, those will come later."

Keeping with the baby theme, Dunham and Konner also shared that they had joked about having all four of the girls working in a children's clothing store, something Dunham did after graduating from college, during a time when the writer-director-actress said she had her "Hannah summer."

"I initially was like, 'Should my pilot just be about girls who work in a baby clothing store?' And I was like, 'That feels small,'" said Dunham, pointing out that Girls did ultimately have Jessa briefly work in a children's store.

As for her Hannah-like time after college, she explained, "I spent a year after I graduated college, and I really lost sight of the part of myself that felt connected to making things and I felt really far away from myself. … I behaved deplorably. I lived with my parents. I misused their cookware and ruined my mom's Le Creuset pot and threw it in the garbage on the corner. I drove my dad's car without a license. I was verbally abusive when I was caught doing it. I had sex with the very wrongest people. I was just on this tear and was like, 'How far can this go?' End of August, my back went out because that's who I am. I was like, 'I'm really living.' … I lay still for like two weeks and was like, 'This isn't really me.' And I wrote the script for Tiny Furniture, and that's what kind of brought me out of that phase. So a lot of Hannah's darkest moments or most horrible things she's done came out of this like year and a half. After it ended and I started making things again, I was like, 'That's what it's like to not know yourself and feel depressed and alone and broken and scared.' There was so much I was dealing with after college that making the show allowed me to deal with."

Dunham directed multiple episodes of Girls before Konner took a turn behind the camera, and when Ferrera asked what made Konner ready to direct, she joked that she's still not there yet.

In all seriousness, though, she said that it was frequent guest star Colin Quinn who pushed her to direct, and it wasn't until she actually did it that she realized how much she enjoyed it and what she was missing out on.

"In the weeks before [she directed her first episode], Jenni was so nervous she was literally looking for any excuse [to not have to direct]," Dunham shared. "She was like, 'You know, that script is not looking great, maybe we get a different director because I think I need to be in the writers room.' She was looking for every excuse and then the first day she shows up it's as if she's been doing it forever. She'd been like, 'You're going to need to be with me every second because I'm really going to need your feedback.' And I come over and I'm like, 'I have a thought,' and she was like, 'Can you give me a minute?' She was fully in it. It's like all of her fears evaporated."

And Ferrera shared that it was Dunham suggesting she should direct that gave her the confidence to ask if she could helm an episode of her series Superstore.

"You were the first person to say, 'we're doing this shorts series, you should direct an episode,' and I hadn't thought of myself as a director. And having another colleague, peer, female, say to me, you can do this, made all of the difference to me," said Ferrera. "And even though that didn't end up working out, the confidence stayed. And that is the importance of having people in your life and your network who see you and see your potential and are challenging you to move forward."

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